Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monsters of Our Own Making

I Live in Fear
movie poster
Last week's frightening discovery of an unexploded WWII-era bomb on the grounds of Japan's Sendai Airport highlights the lasting impact wars tend to have. That find and a similar one made earlier this year in Tokyo shouldn't come as such a big surprise given the sheer tonnage of explosives dropped on the country during the Second World War. Fifty eight percent of the city I now call home was destroyed by the fire and explosives that rained from the sky over half a century ago.

I sometimes think about that disturbing statistic and the possibility that some of those deadly devices might still be lying around here when I'm gingerly digging around in my half postage stamp-size garden (maybe I shouldn't call it a garden since nothing ever grows there). There is no escaping my fear. The problem of unexploded ordinance (a.k.a. UXO) extends to every corner of the earth that has seen a major military conflict and that covers a big part of the globe. The annual "iron harvest," the collection of unexploded mines and more that French and Belgian farmers turn up when they plow their fields each Spring, still yields all sorts of potentially deadly WWI-era surprises. As unbelievable as that may sound, it pales in comparison to the "Twelve Tales from the Nuclear Crypt." The tales are a collection of stories about Cold War-era nuclear bombs that have gone missing or worse, accidentally gone off, as told by Jeffry Lewis on the Foreign Policy website (read it there and beware).

The thought that these atomic monsters of our own making are out there, just waiting, is likely to send chills up and down anyone's spine on a night full of Halloween fright. It might even be enough to make you want to reach for the proverbial torch and pitchfork and try to finally put an end to the making of these monsters once and for all.

Related post: On the Wings of Cranes

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Stranger

This has happened before. 

A strange foreigner has moved into the apartment building at the bottom of the hill I call home. The really strange part is that he has moved into the exact same apartment where the the last foreigner to come and go from this valley lived. It's as if they keep that space reserved for ex-patriots, or maybe the last guy to live there recommended it to the current occupant via the international grapevine. I don't know if either is the case but it just seems like a weird coincidence. 

At least one person I know, my wife, swore the two foreigners were one in the same. She claimed she couldn't tell the difference and then told me to stop peaking out the window. It wasn't until I told her about the arrival of the new appliances that she finally believed me and agreed it was a new and different occupant. It's not like I'm staking out the building or anything like that. It's just that the house we live in rests inside a little dimple* in the face of the earth overlooking the apartment building below so I can't help but notice the goings on there. 

I never got to know the last foreigner who lived there. All I know is that he was an American and kept kind of odd hours (9-5). Our paths only crossed once and I think one of us was slightly inebriated at the time because all I managed to utter was "howdy" and tip my cap. He seemed like a nice guy, at least that's what everybody in the neighborhood said, but I was sort of glad to see him go just the same.

Now there is another one there in that exact same spot. I imagine he will help the old ladies in the neighborhood carry out their garbage while regaling them with tales of rodeos and the inner workings of the American political system in flawless Japanese. He will no doubt become known as "the good foreigner" and I will by comparison be known as "the bad foreigner."

This has happened before. 

*I think it might be the mouth of a dormant volcano. 


Monday, October 22, 2012

Big in Seattle

... but not so big in his native Japan where he currently resides, the singer/song writer known as PWRFL Power, a.k.a. Kazutaka Nomura, has been hailed as the brightest star on the music horizon since Daniel Johnston (sans the psychological dissonance). His music has been called "real and human" and "something you can connect to." So like everybody else who comes within earshot of Kaz's playing, I'll shut up so we can listen here:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bug Roundup

Everybody makes mistakes, but as Albert Burnside (played by Alan Alda)in Rod Lurie's Nothing But the Truth notes: "Sometimes a mistake is like wearing white after Labor Day and sometimes a mistake is invading Russia in winter." Earlier this week Japan's biggest news daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun, fessed up to a mistake that was probably on a magnitude  somewhere between those two extremes. On October 13, the Yomiuri issued what its rival, the Asahi Shinbun, calls "a front page apology" for its sensational and erroneous reporting on human stem cell transplants. 

While most readers anywhere in the world would be surprised to see a big front page correction, a study by University of Oregon professor, Scott Maier, reveals that mistakes are hardly rare animals in the news business. After surveying a sample of US news dailies, Maier and his team discovered 2615 errors in 1220 stories. Put those figures through the numbers cruncher and you wind up with something like half the stories printed in a newspaper on any given day being wrong in some quantifiable way. What is rare in the industry is corrections. Maier found that at the end of the day only about 2% of news outlets ever corrected their mistakes. Is it any wonder why Americans have such a low opinion of the journalism profession? 

According to a recent Pew Foundation study faith in the fourth estate is at an all time low in the U.S. While thorough fact checking could prevent many errors from occurring in the first place, Poynter's Craig Silverman notes in his Regret the Error column that correcting errors "can in fact build trust." The public may not be as unforgiving as some might think. In fact, if asked, most people might believe that to err is human but to correct is divine, especially when it comes to setting the record straight. 

Luckily there is a tool called MediaBugs that is designed to do just that. That is - set the record straight. MediaBugs "is a service for reporting, correctable errors and problems in media coverage." The brainchild of journalists, Scott Rosenberg and Mark Follman, as well as software developer, Ben Brown, MediaBugs was funded with a Knight News Challenge grant. The service holds the bright promise of being an effective tool that could be used to bridge the divide between the press and the people it serves. Not only that, as an open source software program it has potential for applications that go far beyond news reporting.

Online publishers of all stripes can also take advantage of the MediaBugs "report an error" widget that anyone can embed into their  website. A number of sites, like Tech in Asia, already use the widget which seems to be an effective way to boost a publisher's proofreading and fact checking processes while connecting with readers at the same time. 

Here is a roundup of Japan-related MediaBugs reports from the last couple of months. Some have been resolved, some have not. While most are of the "wearing white after Labor Day variety," they all serve to hopefully hold news organizations to a standard that would prevent errors on the order of "invading Russia in winter" (or anywhere in any season for that matter).  

From MediaBugs:

Quake Video - In the Wrong Place
(ABC News)

The description for this video, capturing a few minutes of the killer earthquake that rocked Japan in March of 2011, reads: "Residents in Miyagi Prefecture run as debris falls from buildings." The trouble with the story is that the reporter on camera identifies herself as being in Yokohama City...Read more

Picture Imperfect (The Atlantic Monthly - online) 

The caption for a photo of a 2005 North Korean state ceremony accompanying this article on "the strange rise and fall of North Korea's business empire in Japan" reads: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Tehran nuclear research reactor. " The AP photo looks like it was shot inside some...Read more

More than a Village (Vanity Fair)


Before Vanity Fair could publish Michael Lewis' article on President Obama it had to agree to give the White House first crack at reading it and deleting anything it didn't like. The revelation raised lots of eyebrows along with ethical concerns. Maybe the White House shouldn't have checked this article prior to publication but someone should have. In his story, Michael Lewis writes, “On March 11 a tsunami rolled over the Japanese village of Fukushima, triggering the meltdown of reactors inside a nuclear power plant in the town…” More than a village, Fukushima is...Read more

Big Hole in Bagel Head Story (Huffington Post)

Writing in The Japan Times blog, Japan Pulse, Rebecca Milner notes that “a show on National Geographic, ran a segment earlier this week on a kind of extreme body modification that has been happening in Japan’s underground for years. It involves injecting saline into the forehead and... Read more

Punctuation Matters O:) 
In response to the above error report, a lone preserver of punctuation steps up to ask the Japan Times blog about a missing question mark and without fear or favor the archipelago's favorite English news daily steps down... Read the discussion
BTW - I think the bagel head emoticon above,O:), was designed by a HuffPost commenter who goes by the handle "elsquibbs."

What's New? (Inhabitat)

via Charize on Pinterest

The emergency homes for disaster victims built by the Ex-Container Project are new, but that’s not what Inhabitat says. Back in April of 2011, reported that “a group led by Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects… has formed the Ex-Container Project with the intention of...Read more

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Not Big in Japan

While Gangnam Style fever continues to sweep the globe, Japan seems to be immune to the viral music video sensation by the South Korean musical artist known as PSY. It’s kind of a mystery to me that the song hasn’t taken root here. Even with the recent squabble over a rocky outcrop lying in the waters that separate Japan from South Korea (etcetera), the Japanese public seems to be enamored of Korean popular culture. 

At least that’s what a tour of the local Temple Valley DVD rental emporium would suggest. There is an entire aisle devoted to Korean television dramas and movies. The shelves hold about two thirds as many DVDs as the section devoted to American TV shows and movies (which is twice as big as the area housing DVDs of Japanese movies and TV shows). Oh and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were playing a CD by some K-pop group on the store’s background music system the last time I popped in. The music genre, tailored to suit the local market with Japanese lyrics, has a pretty solid fan base here. 

So why isn’t everybody in Japan making knockoff Gangnam style videos and uploading them to YouTube like everyone else across the globe? The bigger question might be why Gangnam Style has taken the world by storm in the first place. I’m sure lots of recording artists are trying to figure that one out. Maybe the key to unlocking the mystery of the first question lies in the answer to the second. Trying to solve this riddle could keep me up all night. Who knows, by morning everyone in Temple Valley could  be moving it Gangnam Style. Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Updated 10/9/2012 @ 23:36

Yokohama - People across the country were pleased to discover the news that Japanese researcher, Shinya Yamanaka, will share the Nobel prize  with the U.K.'s John Gurdon for advancing the fields of medicine and physiology. Gurdon is being honored for his 1962 discovery in cellular biology, while Yamada is being recognized for carrying the Cambridge scientist's work to the next step with groundbreaking research he did at Kyoto University in 2006 and 2007. 

Since the announcement was made, people across the Twitterverse have been all a flutter about a surprising discovery of their own. It's a Twitter account owned by one Shinya Yamanaka (@YamanakaShinya), bearing a photograph with a striking resemblance and listing the exact same academic credentials as the Nobel Prize-winner of the same name. The Twitter account timeline for @YamanakaShinya includes the following three and only tweets:

Aug. 9, 2012 - "I just joined Twitter today. This is my first tweet."

Aug. 29, 2012 - "I just discovered something really big! TBA soon."

Oct. 8, 2012 - "I just got the NOBEL PRIZE!  :)"

 Many say it's a fake account (pointing to the dates of the big discovery, etc. as proof). Claiming it's all a big lie, they insist the tweets are merely an elaborate ruse to fool the unwitting, or that it's perhaps just a good-natured gag.  
I don't know. Maybe it's all legit and Yamanaka is every bit as much a comic genius as he is a scientific wiz. Then again maybe it is a counterfeit account and the little bluebird is just dead wrong here but it still makes me smile all the same. Another often questioned source, Wikipedia, says "a dead bluebird is a symbol of disillusionment, of the loss of innocence..."  That alone may be reason enough to keep this story alive and at nearly 40,000 "retweets" and counting it doesn't look like the bluebird's tweeting will be dying out any time soon.

UPDATE: The Asahi Shimbun reports tonight that they have discovered that the Twitter account owner is indeed a phony and not the Nobel Prize-winning scientist (but don't tell that to the nearly 17,000 followers that the fake Twitter account had amassed over the course of the day).